I really like the idea of food re-sparking your interest in your own city. Especially when it happens by chance.
So, on Friday, by complete accident, I ended up near the night markets in Chinatown. Of course, I followed the spotlights and tarpaulins to where the action was. It was pretty quiet and small to be honest, but still, you can find a strange-yet-very-Chinatown mixture of everything from cartoony accessories and cheap underwear on sale.
More importantly, there are a few food stalls.
The one that caught my eye (and ear) was the Japanese stall that was sizzling batter into gold-crisped balls. There were vego versions (4 for $3) as well as endearingly earnest combinations with badass names: the “Samurai” (basically Octopus and crab balls) and “Ninjya” (Octopus and Prawn).
They also were frying up Japanese pizza too.
I think a big bonus of market food is seeing it all assembled together in front of you (and frankly, you can’t ever beat a bit of lively hiss and in-stereo frying as the soundtrack to your meal-coming-to-life). The Japanese vegetarian balls tasted pretty much what you’d expect something battered and molten hot would – it’s a tricky mouth-burn-trap (yet, does that ever stop anyone biting straight in?) that’s doughy and satisfyingly carb-fried. It also came with a big dollop of that magical Japanese mayo (so bad, yet so tasty) and some baby leaves (so you could pretend what you were eating wasn’t entirely tsk-tsk and dubiously unnutritional).
Then afterwards, because Menya was closed, I dropped in for (more!) food at Kura, a small Japanese diner I’ve always been curious about. It has always looked packed when I’ve walked past and only when I walked in did I realise how easy it would be to cram up with people: it is TINY. If you’re lucky, you could probably fit 20 people in there, max (although if the diners were body-contorting, space-saving clowns, you could squeeze in at least 100). With five people actually working there when I stopped by, I guess they must have a big takeaway crowd to make up for the low dine-in numbers.
I had a surprisingly disappointing Japanese Seaweed Salad (too overdressed, there’s only so much mayo tang you can take!), but the Agedashi Tofu ($5.80) was very satisfying. The broth had this nice, subtle pickled ginger note to it.
Really, the whole meal was about getting the fish-shaped dessert – Taiyaki ($3) a little Japanese pancake hiding red bean paste inside.
It was an cute end note for an accidental night out, chancing on some small joys in Sydney’s Chinatown.
Chinatown Friday Night Markets, Dixon & Little Hay Streets, Haymarket, NSW 2000
Kura, Shop 3, 76 Ultimo Rd, Haymarket NSW (02) 9212 5661